It’s not about the THING we are buying. It’s about the process of purchasing it, the decision-making, the experience.
This slightly philosophical statement comes from someone going through a massive phase of self-forgiveness.
For a long time I’ve been hiding behind my shame. And guilt. Two beasts of the same genus, separate species.
Here are the facts:
I love clothes.
I love new things.
I love to spend money until it’s gone.
You might imagine where this leads me.
You might also imagine how this might influence my work as a personal and brand stylist and my relationship to what I do.
I almost didn’t answer the calling to be a stylist because of a deep fear that it would propagate what I identified as an issue a long time ago.
How could helping women buy things help me with my problem of buying shit all the time?
Well, it’s actually helped a lot and on a recent Thursday morning in Boston, I had to break a vow I had made to myself and to my audience to not buy anything new until January – that the month when wardrobe investment is at its best due to retailers unloading inventory with massive sales and promotions.
What follows is an account of my experience at the Downtown Crossing TJMaxx which will forever hold a place in my heart.
Some of the content is painstakingly precise in describing (almost) everything I tried on, the pricing and, most importantly, the Q&A process behind what I eventually purchased.
There is entertainment mixed in with my insights and you might benefit from reading it because strong, distinctive personal style is all about strong, distinctive decision-making.
If you read on, thank you. Feel free to skim or just skip to the next set of dotted lines to get to the juicy bit. The TJMaxx-Induced Awakening. For just $24.99.
I needed new gloves. Plain black leather gloves, preferably lined with some sort of insulating material – wool always best. I dropped mine somewhere, my treasured ones and in the face of this loss, and with very cold, chapped hands, I allowed myself an excursion to TJMaxx to find a new pair.
I walked into the fluorescent fashion oasis with a mission. Black leather gloves or bust.
I was determined. Emboldened by my pledge to budget for the January sales at Wrentham.
But, I quickly strayed.
Of course the bags caught my attention. I’m currently interviewing for a new companion carryall and I prefer to meet this sort of purchase in person first.
Scanning the aisles of satchels, backpacks and crossbodies I reminisced about the days I would go and photograph the hardware and details in these very wire-racked, overstuffed walkways seeking inspiration when I felt stuck creating my own designs.
Handbags turned to belts – I was still in accessories so I was on the right path to finding my new gloves.
Or so I thought.
Either way I allowed myself a moment to pause at the belts. I tell all my clients to always go to the belt section and scan for something unique and preferably leather –I love a good belt and have a serious love affair with this particular wardrobe staple.
I was able to move on from the bags but it was hard not to consider the blue snakeskin print belt that was $3.99. Only size large and extra large left but it was cool, unique and even if a few sizes too big I thought it would be worth trying to wear it with a sweater dress by tying the extra length into a half knot.
I rolled it into my right hand, my focus now broken, my passion for style ignited, my pulse quickening as I thought of all the ways I could incorporate this inexpensive piece into my closet.
Maybe I could create a post about this belt? It would add some extra pizazz to my current belt collection. Maybe it would become a mainstay? Perhaps it would solve all my problems?
I found a saleswoman as I rounded the corner into lingerie and jumped at the opportunity to ask a human where to find what I was really in the store to purchase. She led me part of the way there and motioned further into the abyss.
Thanking her I made a visual note of where she had motioned but doubled back because I had seen a leopard print faux fur martini shaker that would be a perfect client gift.
Belt and martini shaker in either hand I was back on track to the glove section.
It took every ounce of me to put on the blinders past the Runway section but there was work to be done! Even one quick look for me is fatal.
The first pair of gloves that struck me was black leather with blue/black faux fox fur cuffs. They had an extra seam along the inside of the fingers so they made my hands look bulky and though I liked the flair, my go-to winter coat fell a little too long and mashed the fur. Interference.
I rounded the corner and tried a pair of leather ones with corseting running from the cuff down the back of the hand. Tech compatibility made them desirable and the lining was soft but polyester. I tried them on and my coat cuffs truncated the detailing. No good.
I returned to the wall and scanned again – a pair of genuine leather, black perforated ones jumped out at me. Wool lined. Made in Italy. Perfect. And at $24.99 so the most reasonable of the three I had considered.
I had found what I was looking for but I had already worked hard that morning and thought I might reward myself with a little meander, a detour on the way to the cash register.
The TJMaxx vortex had already tempted and ensnared its lulled prey.
Gloves flowed into scarves and, as with belts, I often recommend checking out the scarf section because you never know what you might find.
Heaps of infinity scarves and of faux fur muffs cascaded down the wall. A leopard one with a dark grey beanie attached by plastic tab caught my eye. There was no price tag but I figured it couldn’t cost anymore than $20. Maybe this one would appease my ache for something new and fresh?
To look at myself in the mirror for an analysis, I had to make my way into the Runway section – right back on the highway to the DANGER ZONE.
The beanie was cute but a bit too tight. I knew it would leave me with a severe hathead even if the way it fit my head made my bangs look super cute. I loved the cozy feel of the neck muff but these thoughts made me question its practicality:
1) Respiration and it feeling “wet” from breathing on it
2) How warm was it really? It felt warm but I envisioned a solid Boston Wind whipping right through it and
3) What the hell to do with it when I wasn’t wearing it? It would be like carrying around a stuffed animal if it wasn’t around my neck.
As I considered all these questions while looking in the mirror I decided the muff and beanie could be left behind when…
…there it was.
An off-the-shoulder Elizabeth and James dress. Bright red.
On clearance for $39.00.
My heart skipped a beat.
Body con and bold. Beautiful, a well-established designer known for quality and marked down to bargain-basement pricing.
Style angels were blaring their trumpets.
The dam was breached. If I was going to try it on I might as well try on something else.
Very quickly my arms were full and they were cranky under the weight of the garments. Also, my brain was screaming at me.
What about your pledge?
What about your promise to invest in personal and business development over clothes?
What are you doing to yourself?
But how could I not at least try the items even if I was questioning my integrity.
I wondered if WikiHow has a post on how to cultivate integrity.
Stationed in a dressing room my efficient stylist side kicked in and I began filing through the items quickly starting with dresses. The red dress was a bombshell, as expected, though skewed towards the hussie side and I quickly realized the stain on the sleeve was not the only defect; the back of the neck hem was nearly torn to shreds. It was salvageable, I could repair it and I imagined getting lots of attention at hubs’ holiday work holiday gathering.
Definitely in the consideration pile.
A Theory cable knit sweater dress was up next and at first glance seemed just the thing I would love to live in now and through the winter months but taking it off, I turned into a static cling commercial. No good though somehow the $117 clearance rack price tag swayed me and I kept it in the consideration pile.
The Velvet Vince slipdress dipped low in the back. Too revealing and not at all versatile even if it was a “steal” at $69.00.
Next onto the blouses. The silk rag and bone tie neck (Oh, how I love tie necks) assured me that it was silk but still felt like polyester and I just couldn’t envision myself ever being excited to wear it.
A poof-shoulder denim Paige button-down johnny collar– I had to ask myself do I like it for me or because I think I will get a compliment on it?? Only $39.00 but I knew it would not make it into next season and the poof sleeves wouldn’t work under layered under a sweater.
Which brought me to the sweaters.
I loooooove, love looooooove sweaters. Especially cashmere. I’m a total sucker. And this Skull Cashmere sweater did something to me. The perfect blend of everything cool and cosy. This was the piece that led me to check all my account balances and consider moving money around.
I could have done it.
Then I consulted my inner wisdom.
My typical MO is to say yes but I’m often in a position to say yes to everything and this time, it felt different – purchasing this super cute sweater I could see myself wearing multiple times would invalidate everything I had promised myself, and my audience, I was doing.
I asked myself a series of questions – the deliberation had begun.
Do I need this sweater?
Will I regret not buying this sweater?
Will I feel better NOT buying this sweater today?
And so, I put everything back on hangars and returned the 10-items card to the nice lady playing dressing room sentinel.
Nothing today? She asked. What about that red dress?
I showed her the damage and she said they shouldn’t even be selling it – ask for a steeper discount.
No, I said. I’m just here for the gloves.
I had the cashier cut the tags so I could wear the gloves out. The truth was, even the $24.99 was a stretch for me at that very moment but the purchase felt different than any I had made. Maybe ever.
I experienced true integrity and knew I had given myself the proof I needed that I could walk into a temptation vortex like TJMaxx and, wearing black leather gloves, stick to my proverbial guns.
As I headed for the escalator, the warm winter sun was streaming in through the massive glass window and it caught my face at an angle that made me feel like this decision was the beginning of something truly remarkable.
This was one small step closer to truly embodying the CEO who knows how to shop with integrity and buy a pair of leather gloves. Period.
Helena will be hosting a group shopping excursion at the Wrentham Outlets in early January. To sign up for more information email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Good job Helena! You looked like a million bucks in that red dress but there’s always another spectacular dress out there to be found when you can afford it. I am one of those women who thinks anything new will make me feel better and look better! It rarely does so lately, like you, I have been trying to show restraint. Your story inspired me to work harder at saying “NO”. Keep it up because truly, no matter what you wear, you are beautiful!